As artists, it’s important that we use tools that are comfortable and allow us to express our ideas quickly and freely. Writers use a pen or an ergonomic keyboard. Painters have countless sizes and styles of brushes. But what should a Photoshop artist use?
A mouse? Well, a mouse can certainly get the job done, but computer mice were not designed for digital artists in mind. There’s a better way to work!
Here at PHLEARN, we’ve been a huge fan of Wacom for many years. Today, we look at one of their tablet products; the Wacom Intuos Pro.
Our Wacom Tablet Review
I’ve personally been using a Wacom tablet for years and I won’t be looking back any time soon. It’s become an integral part of my workflow and gives me the control and comfort I need, especially when working on long and details edits. One of the great features of these tablets is their options for customization. Everyone works a little bit differently, and you setup your Wacom to cater to your needs and how you work.
Once you’ve unboxed your tablet, be sure to visit Wacom’s Support Page and download the most recent drivers for your tablet and operating system.
Once you’ve installed the most recent drivers and support software for your Wacom tablet, it’s time to go under the hood and start customizing the settings to maximize comfort. Let’s start by opening the Wacom Tablet software preferences. (We’re working with a version for Mac OS – if you’re using a PC, the setup will be similar but make sure to read the installation instructions for your particular OS.)
Beginning under the Pen tab, let’s take a look at some of the customization options that are available. Tip Feel will set the pressure sensitivity of the pen on the tablet. A more firm Tip Feel will require more pressure and a soft Tip Feel will require less. I generally prefer a firmer feel, but as you work with tablet more in Photoshop, adjust these settings to whatever is most comfortable for you.
Double Click Distance
With a normal mouse, you can quickly press the left mouse button to register a ‘double click’ which will activate or open whatever is underneath the cursor. You can get the same functionality from a graphics tablet by tapping on the pad twice. Since it’s unlikely that you’re going to tap the exact same spot twice, this setting allows you to set the distance in which the pen can move between the first click and the second and still register a double click. Sound confusing? No problem! We’re turning this off. Having this feature enabled in Photoshop will cause a lot of issues and will more than likely ruin your day. So turn this off. And have a great day.
This setting will come into play while using some brushes in Photoshop that will change depending on if or how far your pen is tilting. Think of drawing with a marker. With the marker straight up and down, you’ll get a relatively thin and even line. Tilt the marker and the line will get larger and change shape. Setting Tilt Sensitivity will depend heavily on what brushes you tend to use. I don’t often use brushes that take advantage of this setting, so I just leave it set to normal.
Pen Button Layout
Wacom pens will come with a couple of buttons that can be mapped to different functions. I use undo a ton and, normally, I would have to hit OPTN + CMD + Z (or ALT + CTRL + Z for PC users) every time I wanted to step back. Instead, I prefer to set this command to one of the buttons on my Wacom. This allows me to work much faster in Photoshop.
To do this, click on either drop-down box assigned to the pen buttons and select ‘Keystroke’. Simply hit the keys of the keyboard command that you want to assign and hit ‘Okay’.
I leave the other button set to Right Click since that’s a pretty important command to have while working in Photoshop. There are nearly unlimited options for how you can use these buttons so if this doesn’t work for you, find a combination that does!
Not once in my life have I flipped my Wacom pen over to erase something. Layer Masks and the Eraser Tool are all I need.
By default, the entire surface of your Wacom tablet will cover the entire area of the screen. This means if you want to move your cursor from one edge of the screen all the way to the other, you need to move your pen the entire distance of your tablet. Fortunately, there are settings for this that allow you to reduce the distance your hand has to travel to cover the distance of the screen.
To do this, click on the Mapping tab. You will see a drop-down for Screen Area and a drop-down for Tablet Area. Leave the Screen Area set to full, since we want to be able to move our cursor over the entire screen as needed. Using the Table Area drop-down, you can set how much of the tablet you want use in order to get full coverage of the screen. I set my Tablet Area to cover only a small portion of the top left corner. This allows my hand and wrist to stay in the same area as I work.
Touch and Functions
I don’t use the features at all. I prefer to use my keyboard when I use any keyboard shortcuts and I only use the top left corner of the tablet when I’m using my pen. If you want to try my setup, I recommend disabling all of these features. A good way to determine what works best for you, is to start with most of these features disabled and then pay attention to what tools or shortcuts you use most often. If you discover something that you wish you had faster access to more often, it’s a good idea to try mapping it to a function key on the tablet.
Brush Settings in Photoshop
Aside from being a more comfortable and natural fit for the hand, pressure sensitivity in Photoshop is another huge advantage of using a tablet. Open Photoshop, go to Window, and to Brush Settings. Here you will see a wide variety of brushes and settings that can be adjusted to respond to varying levels of pressure.
The customization here is deep, but the big takeaway is that these tools will give you the feel of using a real brush, pen, or marker as you apply effects in Photoshop. This means more natural looking effects that can be layered and smoothed out in real-time as you work.
Using a tablet does take some getting used to. It will take time to hone in on the right settings that work best for you and it will take time to get used to the physical differences between working with a pen and working with a mouse. But after a couple of weeks, I’m confident you’ll come out on the other end feeling more confident and excited to put this new tool to work. You’ll find yourself working more comfortable and with more precision than ever before.
I started using my first Wacom in 2006 and I haven’t looked back. It has changed the way I work in Photoshop and I hope that, if you decide to make the investment, it will do the same for you.
Wacom Tablet Drivers
If you are using a Wacom tablet on a Windows computer, there is a good chance you need to download additional drivers to make sure it works properly. If you are looking for the latest drivers, don’t use any other website other than the official Wacom driver download page located here: https://www.wacom.com/en/support/product-support/drivers
You never know what you are downloading when you use some random third-party download website or if they are giving you the latest version!
I’ve always found that my Wacom nibs last a long time, sometimes over a year each. Because of that, I’ve never seen much need in stocking up on a bunch of additional nibs as you will likely to find they last a lot longer than a lot of comparable tablets out on the market. I don’t know if Wacom just does a better job manufacturing their nibs than other’s do, but they can be used constantly, day after day, for months and show almost zero sign of wear-and-tear.
Wacom Intuos vs Intuos Pro vs Bamboo
A common question we get is, “Which version should I buy?!?”
Here is the quickest way I can think of to sum this up.
If you are a professional photographer, professional designer or illustrator, or you do a lot of paid retouching work, you’ll likely need the Intuos or Intuos Pro. It’s has amazing sensitivity, has a huge editing surface (active area), and is buttery smooth when you are using tools like brushes.
The Bamboo is designed for those who want to “try out” using a tablet in their editing workflow, but don’t yet want to commit to a professional level tablet. That’s why it costs a lot less and has far fewer features. It’s a pure introductory tablet. There is nothing wrong with the Bamboo, but out of the hundreds of professional editors I’ve met over the last eight years of teaching, none of them use the Bamboo.
So, the question boils down to the Intuos vs Intuos Pro. Either works great. You cannot lose going with either tablet, the new Pro is simply the latest version of Wacom’s technology, which means it takes advantage of having even more sensitivity, more advanced settings, a newly designed Pen with eraser, and it comes in a Large size as well. If your budget is tight, go with the Intuos and you will be just fine. If you can afford it, get the Pro and take advantage of the single best table on the market.